Insight in determinants of international cooperation

M. Zitt, E. Bassecoulard, Y. Okubo


Bibliometricians, historians of science and sociologists of various schools have stressed different forms of and roles of cooperation in the advancement of science. Using a classic bibliometric approach, we tried to observe the development of cooperation patterns in Europe over the decade 1986-1996, especially for the three largest countries France, Germany, UK, with the USA and Japan as a background. Do patterns change, especially when using sensitive measures that control size of the countries? What do we learn about determinants of collaboration ? Do we observe the same determinations at the regional level?


We base this exploratory study on international coauthorship data in SCI/CMCI and descriptive statistics. In terms of science policy, the gross figures and profiles are of major importance. But they very much reflect the expectations: it is not surprising that France or Germany have a lot of cooperation with the United States. If the size effect is taken into account, which is possible through a probabilistic affinity index with proper correction for diagonals, second order phenomena such as cultural or geographical determinants can then be observed.

Standard indicators (activity and attractivity indexes) are used for field-level analysis. We mainly report results at the national level, with some insight at the regional level taking France as an example.


A striking finding is that, while volumes of co-authorship are increasing, the patterns of cooperation (profiles of countries) have not changed significantly throughout the decade. As far as the three largest EU countries are concerned, this stability may be due primarily to structural determinants such as historical, cultural and linguistic proximities, and then to geographical proximity. The three countries behave as poles with a traditional area of influence, hardly affected by the europeanization process that seems to be more clearly observed for smaller countries within the EU.

The determinants of cooperation, cultural/political and geographical, are often strongly entangled. For countries such as Germany, they are structurally combined, since the area of cultural/linguistic influence is not much different from the geographic neighborhood. Though the same phenomenon is observed for neighbors of the UK (Ireland) and France (Belgium, Switzerland), the UK and France have developed special relationships, regardless of the distance, with many other countries. For example, the former overseas empires, which left political, cultural and linguistic imprint, continue to shape part of the patterns of cooperation.

We also had a first glance at border regions, limiting ourselves to France and its neighbors. It appears that these regions play a distinctly stronger role in intercountry copublication than other regions. But again, cultural and geographical determinants are not easy to disentangle : in most cases the spatial proximity also carries cultural proximity (between Northern border with Belgium, Alsace and Lorraine with Germany, Provence-Cote d'Azur with Italy, southern border, with homologous regions in Spain: Basque region, Catalunia).

Other factors may intervene in the cooperation, whether deliberate or not. For example, the relationship between the fields of cooperation and the fields of strengths and weaknesses of partners, suggest several types of behavior.

Both at national or regional level, such exploratory works are meant to prepare more systematic modelization of co-authorship. One main concern will be to formalize how cultural, geographical and positional relationships interfere, with somewhat different schemes according to countries.

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